Florida International University

Paleoenvironments Syllabus

3 credits


Prof. Laurel Collins


Fall 2018, Tu/Th 9:30-10:45 am, PC 448


Combined sections of:

BSC 4304-U01 Environments of the Past

GLY 4660-U01 Paleoecology

BSC 5302-U01 Past Ecosystems

GLY 5108-U01 Paleoecology and Paleoenvironments


Course Description - Overview of the study of environmental changes through time, integrating paleobiology, paleoecology, sedimentology, stratigraphy, and geochemistry. Topics include local environmental changes and regional to global climate change of the past, synecology of fossils, paleobiodiversity, changes in communities over geologic time, sedimentary facies and environments, skeletal mineralogy, stable isotopes of oxygen and carbon, paleotemperature and paleobiogeography. 

Objectives - to learn and apply methods for determining how environments and climate on Earth have changed through time.

Learning Outcomes - an understanding of modern environments and how environmental and paleoclimate change are studied, and major changes that have occurred.

Course Outline



Tu  Aug. 21

Introduction to the course

Th  Aug. 23 Sedimentary environments (Ch. 1)

M   Aug. 27

last day to add courses or to drop courses without paying a fee

Tu  Aug. 28 Activities 1: Sedimentary environments

Th  Aug. 30

Taphonomy and preservation  (Ch. 3)

Tu  Sept. 4

Activities 2: Taphonomy and preservation

Th  Sept. 6

Trace fossils and bioturbation (Ch. 5)

Tu  Sept. 11

Activities 3: Trace Fossils

Th  Sept. 13

Water depth indicators: fossil associations (Ch. 2, 6)

Tu  Sept. 18

Activities 4: Water depth indicators

Th Sept. 20 Activities 5: Review and practice questions
Tu Sept. 25 Exam 1
Th Sept. 27

Temperature & salinity: fossils, stable isotopes (Ch. 2, 6)

Tu Oct. 2

Activities 6: Temperature indicators

Th  Oct. 4

Nutrient, upwelling & oxygen indicators: fossils & stable isotopes (Ch. 2, 6)

Tu  Oct. 9

Paleocommunities and diversity as ecological indices (Ch. 7) 

Th  Oct. 11

Activities 7: Paleocommunties and diversity

Tu  Oct. 16

Paleobiogeography and distributions of taxa (Ch. 8) 

Th  Oct. 18

Activities 8:  Paleobiogeography

Tu  Oct. 23

Activities 9: Review and practice questions, last day to drop courses with a DR grade

Th  Oct. 25

Exam 2

Tu  Oct. 30

Global paleoenvironments through time, I. Diversification (Ch. 9)

Th  Nov. 1

Global paleoenvironments through time, II. Extinction (Ch. 9)

Tu  Nov. 6

Coral reef paleoenvironments of Panama, by Maria Sider, Ph.D. candidate
Th Nov. 8 The Ice Age
Tu Nov. 13

Activities 10: Paleoenvironments through time

Th  Nov. 15

Fossil terrestrial ecosystems  (Ch. 10)
Tu Nov. 20 Activities 11: Terrestrial ecosystems
Th Nov. 22 Thanksgiving holiday, university closed

Tu  Nov. 27

Graduate student presentations

Th  Nov. 29

Activities 12:  Review and practice questions for the final exam, grad papers due

Tu  Dec. 4, 10-11:15am

Exam 3 - Note that the time is different than the usual class time


Instructor  -  Prof. Laurel Collins, Dept. Earth & Environment, and Dept. Biological Sciences. Contact collinsl@fiu.edu (preferred) or (305) 348-1732.  Office hours in PC 435 are T 2-3:30, F 10:30-12, or by appointment.


Recommended textbook  -  P.J. Brenchley & D.A.T. Harper, 1998, Palaeoecology: Ecosystems, Environments and Evolution: Chapman and Hall, N.Y.  This book may be rented or bought from the FIU Bookstore. Using the textbook for reference is recommended because lectures are based largely on the chapters listed in the Course Outline. If you do not take good notes or will probably miss a few classes, get this book.


Grading for BSC 4304/ GLY 4660  -  Final grades are based on the assigned activities (worth 33% of the total grade) and three exams (worth 67%). Grades use the scale:  A = 93-100%, A- = 90-92%, B+ = 87-89%, B = 83-86%, B- = 80-82%, C+ = 77-79%, C = 70-76%, D = 60-69%, F = 0-59%. Each exam covers only the coursework since the last exam.

Activities: Class meetings are more informal and include work with specimens, discussions, written exercises and reviews for exams. There are 12 Activities days, with 3% of your grade earned for 11 activities days, so you may miss one without losing credit.

Exams test your knowledge of the information from class, including student presentations. Makeup exams and activities are given only in extreme circumstances that can be well documented, such as a serious illness, death in the family, or family emergency. Going out of town is not a valid reason for missing exams or planned activities, so if you have a trip scheduled for any of these times, do not take this course. 


Grading for BSC 5302/ GLY 5108 -  Final grades are based on the assigned activities (20%), exams (50%), research paper (20%) and 12- to 15-minute presentation (10%). The paper should address an aspect of paleoenvironments with 10-15 double-spaced pages (excluding figures and tables) in 11-point font, with 1" margins. It should include an abstract, text and references. Number the figures and tables, and place them at the end of the paper.